La Belle Vie: Air-conditioning, French insults and the best places to visit in spring

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected] • 24 Mar, 2023 Updated Fri 24 Mar 2023 08:06 CEST
La Belle Vie: Air-conditioning, French insults and the best places to visit in spring
People visit the gardens of Claude Monet house and foundation in Giverny. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

From common mistakes foreigners make when first arriving in France to the best activities for spring and ranking French insults, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.


La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

There are a few peculiarities about life in France that tend to catch foreigners by surprise. One that sticks out in my mind is the assumption my American friends tend to make that air conditioning is commonplace in France. Even though it is still springtime, I have already begun warning friends who want to visit this summer that they will have to make do with some sweaty days and nights. 

Elevators too - when I first moved to France, my mother came along to help me with the process. We were toting two giant pieces of luggage, our own backpacks, and a cat carrier. Upon arrival at the Airbnb, we learned that the apartment was on the sixth floor and (of course) there was no elevator. I remember being so annoyed that this had not been clearly marked on the Airbnb listing. Oh well.

31 mistakes foreigners make when they arrive in France

I must admit that one mistake tourists make that drives me nuts is the tendency to wander into the bike lane.


It's probably an honest mistake, but you should know, that if you do commit this error you are likely going to have an array of insults shouted at you by the French biker speeding along the bike lane. 

You might catch some angry 'putains' - which is surprisingly not the worst French insult. 

What's the worst possible insult you can use in French?

It is very important to familiarise yourself with French swear words before moving to France - mostly because you want to avoid uncomfortable situations.

One of our readers, Seb Rocco in Montpellier, wrote in to tell us about a language tip he wished he had known prior to moving to France - had he been aware of it, he would have been able to avoid accidentally seriously insulting his son's teacher.

11 top French language tips we wish we knew before moving to France

Numbers are another tricky part of the French language. Take 77 for example, or rather, ‘sixty-ten-seven’ as it would be said in French. And it gets worse. Ninety-nine translates to 'four-twenty-ten-nine' or quatre-vingt-dix-neuf. One reader of The Local told us that they believe the French numeric system is "specially designed to puzzle foreigners”.

I definitely agree with that sentiment. If I have to speak long sequences of French numbers out loud or on the phone, I will still try to write them down beforehand if possible. The funny thing is that once you have mastered the task of memorising your phone number in French, you might have trouble repeating it back in English. 

How did the French end up with their ‘crazy’ numbers?

As we prepare to set our clocks to summer time, you might be wondering what activities you can get up to this spring in France. There are plenty of fun festivals and places to visit in the weeks and months ahead. I am looking forward to some sunny bike rides, perhaps out to the village of Giverny in Normandy, where father of impressionism Claude Monet lived and painted for 43 years. 

14 places to visit and festivals to enjoy in France this Spring

Finally, for families with children, it can be hard to come up with new kid-friendly activities - whether you are on vacation in France or living here full time. 


Paris-based journalist and mother-of-two Helen Massy-Beresford outlined the 19 best places to visit in and around Paris with children in tow. Many of them are great for the adults too - like the Atelier des Lumières, an immersive exhibition where images are projected onto the walls and floor of this huge space in the 11th arrondissement.

19 of the best child-friendly days out in and around Paris


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